The Place Beyond the Pines

wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?) - Even if you skip the big screen, do watch it. It may have something for you

quick review:

Similar in mood and characters to his previous film Blue Valentine but starkly different in terms of what he’s trying to say, director Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines is a complex film, not in terms of comprehending what’s going on, but in terms of coming to terms with it. This is a film I’d quite recommend to those who love it when cinema leads to soul-searching.

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Director: Derek Cianfrance
Running time: 140 minutes
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A little over two years after the poetic Blue Valentine, the Derek Cianfrance-Ryan Gosling combo is back with The Place Beyond the Pines, a film that has so much going for it and yet seems to have something missing; something you can’t pinpoint for sure, but you can almost feel it while watching the film. If I had to try my best to describe what’s missing, I’d say, “A destination.” That can be both, a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

I’ve always disliked it when someone, after they know I’ve watched a particular film, asks me, “So what is the film about?” I hate attempting to distill an entire film into a few lines of prose. But with this particular film, I wouldn’t be able to even if I tried. The Place Beyond the Pines talks about characters, about choices and about consequences. It deals with loneliness, with morality, with responsibility and with survival instincts.

Not out of laziness, but for the purpose of illustrating something, I’m reproducing the official synopsis of the film below.

“A motorcycle stunt rider turns to robbing banks as a way to provide for his lover and their newborn child, a decision that puts him on a collision course with an ambitious rookie cop navigating a department ruled by a corrupt detective.” That, dear reader, is precisely what the film is not about.

Ryan Gosling’s motorcycle stunt rider and Bradley Cooper’s rookie cop are mere eyewashes; quite like Blue Valentine, this film too is set around men who are failures, even if some of them seem to don the garb of being successful. In fact, Derek Cianfrance seems to have made it a pattern. The men in his films always seem to be talented people who are perpetual underachievers, no matter how hard they try. The women, on the other hand, seem have to deal with the grotesqueries of their respective men’s personalities.

The film also subtly shows the butterfly effect; the consequences to one’s actions, that are often so far-reaching in time and space, that you can only truly know it when you are watching it from the outside; if you are a viewer at the cinema, or if you are God. What defines right and wrong? Does one right undo a wrong that has been done? No? Then do two rights undo one wrong? No? Then how many rights does it take? Who defines it? The world is an orgy of shades of grey, and cinema very rarely tries to explore that. Even the films that do portray grey characters often do it at a superficial level – they’ll show a backstory of a man seeking redemption for some aspect of his personality, ultimately coming up trumps in the end.

Cianfrance fastidiously avoids black and white, with every single character that appears before you. They’ve all got chinks in their personality, and none of them ever venture too much out of the grey spectrum. And every single character in the film, no matter how big or small, is a loner. In fact, the sense of loneliness hangs through the film.

The terrific cast, especially Gosling and Cooper, play out the melancholy quite well. Gosling’s character does seem like a cocktail of some of his previous characters, particularly the ones from Drive and Blue Valentine, but he always seems to add in that little bit extra in his voice and body language, which makes him so great in every role that he plays. Bradley Cooper’s character, now that I think of it, also seems to be a mix of his characters from Limitless and Silver Linings Playbook, except that he actually manages to seem like an uncomfortable young rookie when he has to. Also, his character has the widest, steepest graph in the film, and he pulls it off.

The talented Ben Mendelsohn, again, plays a character that reminds you of him in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, but he is excellent as always. Eva Mendes looks appropriately haggard, in keeping with her character. I’ve never been a fan of her acting prowess. Here too, she’s good, but never great. Ray Liotta is superb, subtly menacing, in a tiny role.

When I left the theatre after the film, I couldn’t believe just how much the film had traversed in its runtime. It meandered often, and some of the situations were downright implausible. Still, because of the sheer pertinence and relevance of the some of the questions that the film raises, it is bound to gnaw away at you even hours after you’ve watched it. Then, there are some beautiful frames that say so much; ones that will stay with you for a while. The Place Beyond the Pines is the kind of film that will reward you for your patience, but it’ll take some time to realize that what you got in return was actually a reward.

This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at

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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Bloodshed, gunshots, brawls
  • Language: Expletives used often
  • Nudity & Sexual content: None
  • Concept: The worlds of two men collide
  • General Look and Feel: Beautifully shot with some gorgeous frames

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

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The Place Beyond the Pines - Cast, crew, links

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Running time:
140 minutes

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